Do you remember the demands on your time when you were a high school student? Classes, homework, maybe college applications. Maybe you had a part-time job. Maybe you participated in after-school activities or played on a school sports team.
For expectant and parenting students, the demands are much greater. At a briefing earlier this summer, Leydi Bautista, a young mother, explained that “you have to be three persons in one day”: parent, student, and worker. In the U.S., roughly one in four girls becomes pregnant at least once before age 20 [PDF]. For Latinas, the rates are higher: one in three Latinas becomes pregnant at least once by her 20th birthday [PDF]. This week marks the 6th Annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Health. One of the ways we can honor the week and respect all young people’s reproductive health decisions is to provide supports, including child care, for parenting students.
The good news is that with the right support and encouragement from their schools and communities, expectant and parenting students – and their children – can and will succeed. The bad news is that the supports are not there yet. Expectant and parenting students face many barriers to enrolling, attending, and succeeding in school, but this blog will focus on just one of them: access to affordable child care.
Parenting students require affordable child care so that they can go to class, do their homework, and, as Leydi described, hold down a job. High quality child care can also give children a leg up for success in school and beyond. However, high quality, affordable child care is too hard to come by. Because of funding short falls, only 17 percent of the children eligible for federal child care assistance received it [PDF] in 2011.
At the state level, in 2014, eighteen states had waitlists for child care assistance or turned away eligible families because their waitlists were just too long. For example, there are over 40,000 children on Massachusetts’ waitlist, nearly 38,000 children in Florida, and over 20,000 children waiting in North Carolina. Without additional funding, these kids may grow up and have children of their own before they clear the waitlist. And, the dearth of child care has a profound impact on young mothers, who may be unable to go to class, do their homework, or work to support their families if they must stay home with their kids. Or, they may have to resort to informal care that is not as reliable and may not be as high quality.
What’s more, even when a parenting student has access to child care, too many states place limits on that care, such as requiring parents to work for a certain number of hours to receive support and placing limits on the amount of time parents can stay in school or the level of education they can obtain. Young parents are more likely to succeed when they can set up the school-work balance that works best for themselves and their families. States (and the federal government) should provide supports for young parents and their children to help them reach their potential and achieve their dreams. Affordable, high-quality child care is an important piece of that puzzle.